Why leafy greens are a best buy

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2012

The leafy green vegetable that Americans are most familiar with is iceberg lettuce, usually a single leaf draped over a hamburger patty. Spinach and Romaine lettuce might find their way into a dinner salad but the heavy nutritional hitters such as kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, cabbage, watercress and beet greens don't show up on the dinner table very often. They provide plenty of nutritional value at low cost but they are unappealing to most people.

Some nutritionists claim that plant foods in general and leafy greens in particular can't compete with the low cost of fast food. That's only true if you consider cost per calorie. Cost versus nutrient value is the real issue, and here's where leafy greens shine.

For most of our existence humans were primarily vegetarians. Hunting, especially for large game, was a late development. Wild plant foods, unlike modern produce, have lots of water and fiber but little starch and few calories. That's why Stone Agers had to eat about 3 to 5 pounds of plant foods per day in order to get enough calories to support their active lifestyle. Such calorie-sparse food is very filling, a fact that is lost on nutritionists who consider only calories, not the fullness factor. The average 2,000-calorie American dinner includes a glass of wine, an entree, a couple of buttered dinner rolls and dessert. That's a lot more expensive than the equivalent calories worth of leafy green salad, which you probably couldn't finish at a single sitting. Most plant foods are so filling that it's hard to overindulge but it's easy to put away another glass of wine, a second helping of an entree or even another dessert. If you're looking for an easy way to drop a few pounds this is an obvious answer.

What leafy greens lack in calories they make up for in valuable nutrients. Their vitamins A, C and K, several B vitamins, folic acid, calcium, iron and both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as trace minerals and thousands of antioxidants cannot be matched by any processed food.

Try varieties of lettuce such as Bibb, oakleaf, etc. If kale, Swiss chard and collard greens don't turn you on, don't dismiss them, Google them. That will reveal dozens of simple but delicious recipes that are worth trying. Replace your usual rice, pasta or potato with one of these a few times a week if you'd like to cut calories and lose weight.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.